168th Commencement: Watch Live
"I applied to law school on a dare," said Thania Fernandez '85.
At 15, Fernandez left the Dominican Republic – where an attorney-diplomat half-brother was military attaché, Ambassador to Italy and Secretary of State – for the United States, arriving with no English. Finishing high school in New York City, she enrolled at Utica College of Syracuse University, graduating in 1973 with a B.A. in International Studies. But she knew she wasn't finished with school.
"I always knew that I would be a lawyer," she said. "I just did not know when." She had good reason to question her timing. She married, raised three children, now grown, and ran her first-husband's commercial plumbing and heating business.
Then came the law school dare at a family gathering.
She and a relative both applied; she was admitted, he wasn't. Her then-husband said, "OK, you won…now life can go back to normal." Fernandez went forward instead.
"I never had to work as hard as I needed to in law school," she said. "I needed to become well organized and expeditious," especially as she added volunteering to the challenges of her studies and to family obligations. She photographed for the law school yearbook, served as co-editor in her third year, and did translations for a federal judge.
At 15, Fernandez left the Dominican Republic for the United States, arriving with no English.
"My first job out of law school was a result of my volunteerism," she said. "I did not choose (state service); it chose me." Graduating in 1985 and passing the bar, she became an Assistant Public Defender in Albany County, then Assistant County Attorney, Averill Park Town Attorney, then Associate Counsel in the New York State Legislature and Deputy General Counsel in the New York State Consumer Protection Board.
During that time she volunteered with a state political committee, "100 Hispanic Women, Capital District Chapter," Airline Ambassador International, Albany Law's NAA, and the School's Diversity Program.
At Albany Law's 2011 Commencement, she personally handed her daughter Allison Bradley her diploma.
Fernandez loves her work as AssistanT Counsel to the New York State Department of Education Office of the Professions (OP) where she advises members of various state boards for the professions and OP staff.
She is excited to be incoming president of the Albany Law School National Alumni Association. "Students need alumni to mentor them, new graduates need alumni to offer continuing legal education, and the school needs successful alumni to provide venues for recent graduates to do their required pro-bono work."
"I am hoping that in some way I can reach Albany Law School alumni and let them know that their law school needs them now."